Sometimes it's best not to second-guess Martin Scorsese. So went the thinking of Denver Film Society Programming Manager Ernie Quiroz and his colleagues when faced with showing the remarkable but also consuming 21-film retrospective, "Martin Scorsese Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema," which opens Aug. 12 at the Sie FilmCenter and runs through Aug. 19.
"At first I wasn't sure we were going to be able to do 21 films. That's a pretty big commitment," Quiroz said. "We were talking internally about how many to do. Ten seemed like a nice round number, but then we decided if we do 10, 12, 15, how do we choose out of those 21? It almost became 'Martin Scorsese has already chosen these 21, who are we to say we'll choose 10 from Marty's list?' "
The challenge shifted from which films to gently whittle to nailing the logistics of showing all 21. After all, the film society is deep into planning the Starz Denver Film Festival — that premiere event runs Nov. 12-23 — and next month, it hosts the non-fiction film fest DocuWest (Sept 10-15).
Bringing "Masterpieces" to Denver reflects the organization's mission to educate but also its ambition to build a national reputation.
The Sie FilmCenter adds its name to an impressive list of U.S art houses and organizations showing the collection, including New York City's Film at Lincoln Center, Chicago's Gene Siskel Center and Berkeley's Pacific Film Archives.
"If we're going to attain that status, we're going to have to do all 21," Quiroz said.
The retrospective spans 30 years of what has been deemed a Golden Age in Polish filmmaking, from 1957 to 1987.
Titan Andrzej Wajda is well represented with five works that stretch over those four decades: "Ashes and Diamonds," "Innocent Sorcerers," "The Wedding," "The Promised Land" and "Man of Iron."
It was Wajda who brought Scorsese — a voracious film historian and dedicated film preservationist — to the storied Polish National Film School in Łódz in 2011.
"It was a trip I had wanted to make for years, as I had long been drawn to the school and to Polish cinema from the time I was a film student at NYU," the director said in a statement.
"This is a cinema of personal vision, social commitment and poetic responsibility from which we've all learned and which sets a high standard that, as a filmmaker, I strive to achieve with every film, every time out."
Denver moviegoers are likely to recognize director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The Starz Denver Film Festival has an annual award named in his honor.
The maker of the superb "Three Colors" trilogy in the 1990s has two films here: "Blind Chance" envisions three different outcomes for its central character who runs to catch a train to Warsaw after his father's death. "A Short Film About Killing" is the longer version of a film that was part of his masterful 10-part television series "The Decalogue," based on the Ten Commandments.
Directing great Krzysztof Zanussi will be in Denver for the screening of "Camouflage," his 1976 tale of academic conformity and cynicism, which opens "Masterpieces." (Aug. 12, 7 p.m.)
He'll also attend the next evening's showing of "The Illumination." Zanussi's "The Constant Factor" also screens during the series.
"Obviously nobody's going to watch all 21," said Quiroz. But trying to is sure to be a unique and rewarding adventure.
"Our members will really appreciate that opportunity," he said.
Lisa Kennedy: 303-954-1567, email@example.com or twitter.com/bylisakennedy
MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENTS MASTERPIECES OF POLISH CINEMA. A 21-film retrospective of digitally restored works from Poland's Golden Age, 1957-1987. Aug. 12-19 at the Denver Film Society's Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E Colfax Ave. Single tickets $7-$10. Opening night $12-$15. Complete series pass $70-$90 via denverfilm.org or 720.381.0813